Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Spoils

I've been hitting the bookstores pretty hard lately.

I'm not sure why, really. I imagine that I've suddenly developed a burning need to read stuff; my office laptop is littered with free e-book samples and gazeteers, I troll the international RPG forums looking for campaign journals to pore through, and of course, there's the aforementioned bookstore visits to consider.

My work is an easy culprit to identify — it's both challenging and exhausting at the same time. When you have to think on your feet and dream up ways to meet a flood of deadlines, you tend to use up a significant portion of your resourcefulness each day.

That said, my circumstances still don't give me a good reason behind my sudden bookstore visits. When the urge first came along, I started hitting the high-class places with discount card in tow. Only recently have I come to my senses and focused these attentions on the cheaper book sales; if I'm going to have to feed a temporary addiction, I hope that I don't break my bank accounts in the process.

I actually put together a short, personal guide to bargain bookstores a few months ago, and I still follow these same expectations. Bargain bookstores (or book sales, or whatever you want to call them) really haven't changed much over the years. I imagine that there are now more than a few bibliophiles who know exactly how to scour a new branch each month, and promptly pick it clean of those volumes that they find interesting.

The last few weeks have made me realize that I approach each book sale with a certain set of goals in mind. My first priority, of course, is to seek out and hoard any particular books that I'm looking for. From there, my second priority involves looking through any titles that seem interesting enough to take home and read. My third priority then involves checking out specific authors or series for collection filler or familiar ground. Finally, if all else fails and I can't find a single thing that I would want to pick up, I just grab the strangest item in the bunch (as long as it's cheap, of course) and bring it to the cash register.

I find that this is not a very organized system, but it does ensure that I leave every book sale with at least one paperback package tucked under my arm. This inevitably gets added to the clutter of a room that has bookpiles in some of the strangest places.

This doesn't even begin to cover the habits I've developed in the bargain bookstore aisles. For starters, I've developed the "bibliophile squat", a maneuver that allows me to inspect the lowest shelves on the pads of my feet for minutes at a time. In cramped spaces or narrow passages where people will inevitably want to walk by, I employ the "crustacean shimmy", so as to let them pass without interrupting my otherwise oblivious stupor.

There are a couple of bookstores that most likely have developed stories about me. In one of them, I spent a solid two hours scouring the bookshelves once it became obvious that at least fifteen volumes of a hard-to-find series were scattered among the collection there. In another, I became so disgusted at the way the books were organized that I started stacking and collating them myself. In the former case, I found myself spending almost a thousand pesos in front of a very surprised cashier; in the latter, I ended up getting some dirty looks from someone who I took to be the branch manager.

The most irritating habit that I've developed so far, however, involves the impromptu "dusting" some of the grimier volumes. I'm allergic to dust, so I can't just start wiping books or melodramatically blowing the tiny particles away... so I end up whacking them once or twice against a convenient surface. Like, say, the seat of my pants.

This has yet to give me any strange looks. I imagine that the people who frequent bargain bookstores themselves have habits that are strange enough to warrant ignorance of mine.

I act a lot more "civilized" when it comes to the more expensive bookstores, of course — these are the places where the titles come shrink-wrapped, and where you can mill around doing absolutely nothing each day until the time comes to grab a Mocha Frappe at the nearest Starbucks. I tend to score a lot more impulsive buys in these areas — if only because I find it difficult to judge books that I can't conveniently open for all of the plastic that covers them. (Yes, it would be easy for me to simply remove the silly wrappers under the watch of a bookstore employee... but why bother?)

That said, even these places aren't safe from my strange habits. I tend to ask the employees about the quality of certain titles, for example. Every now and then I get into a self-propelled debate on the merits of one writer over another, which usually gets me a nod and a smile from people who probably couldn't care less about what I'm talking about. They probably get the same drill from other customers, I think.

I suspect that I've picked up at least thirty different titles in this way over the last few months, with ten of them from the previous two weeks alone. At my current rate of reading, that means that I've got enough to last me about two to three months or so; nevertheless, I still continue to pick up books.

Perhaps it's an obsession. Perhaps it's a compulsion. Perhaps it's merely an outlet for my own curious brand of deviant behavior. Whatever the case, I'm now a hoarder of volumes for my own reading pleasure, which would be nice if it weren't for the fact that I'm rapidly running out of shelf (and room) space.

The other day I inquired about the sale price of a massive plastic container, big enough to fit a small TV with matching DVD player and game system. The saleslady at that time made the unfortunate decision of asking me what I wanted it for, and when I told her that it was for my books, she clearly didn't believe me.

It's just as well, I suppose. Maybe I should start saving for the dump truck...

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